Your Teen’s Selfishness

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in consequences, household rules, parenting, parenting communications, parenting older teens, teen communications, teen culture, troubled teens

 

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What have you done today to help your teenager grow in maturity?

Some parents feed their teen’s selfishness into adult years by continuing to rotate their life around them.  I tell parents that at age 15 it is time for them to begin aggressively helping their teen get over a selfish mindset.

Instead of always wanting to be “served” by mom and dad, older teens need to do things for themselves and also learn to serve others.  After all, they are potentially only a few short years away from having to live totally unselfishly as parents themselves.

Scripture says,“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought….” (Romans 12:3 – NIV). This is a good principle to teach to your teens at this stage, since selfishness is just that — thinking more highly of oneself than others (including you).  Should this selfishness be allowed to grow during the teen it years will only accentuate into other problems after they leave home.

So how do you put an end to your teen’s selfishness?

First, you need to put on the brakes!  Stop doing everything for your teen.  Quit jumping every time he says “frog.”  His control over your life and the life of others in your family is to cease, beginning now.  Review the negative habit patterns you established in your home in the early years, and let it be known in a gentle way that you’ll no longer be doing a lot of the things that you had been doing to help them as a younger child.

Break the news to them in this way:

  • I’ll no longer be doing your laundry.
  • I’ll no longer get you out of bed in the morning.
  • I’ll no longer accept childish whining from you.
  • I’ll not be doing what should be your chores, like cleaning your room or bathroom.
  • I’ll no longer nag you about what you need to accomplish.
  • I’ll no longer pay for gas or give you spending money unless you earn it.

Get my point?  You have got to stop doing some things, so that your child can start learning to do some of these things for themselves.  You stop to get out of the way, so he or she can start.

If you don’t do this, your teen is not being required to grow up.  And I see a great number of kids today that remain immature into early adulthood.  That happens not because of forces of nature or culture, but because parents enable it.

So the first step is to just stop.  Can you do that?  And I mean both parents, not just one.

The second step then is to have a discussion with them about why stopping.  It doesn’t have to be a deep philosophical discussion about their need to learn responsibilty.  I would leave it as a simple, “Because you now have the ability to do it for yourself and I don’t want to do it anymore!”  Any comments beyond that will only stir up further fruitless discussion.  Let your teen know that you’re not doing “it” (whatever “it” is) because you don’t want to do “it” any more.  You’ll be amazed how it will put him in a position of not being so demanding of you, and will put you in a position of not having to do everything for them.

Sometimes it is best to let teenagers know that they will have to start these new responsibilities “this summer,” or, “when school starts,” or, “when you turn 15,” or, “the first of the year.”   That way you prepare them for the change that is coming. Don’t drop it on them overnight.  Maybe even work with side by side them for couple of weeks as you make the transition, but be clear when your assistance will stop and that you’ll not do it yourself during the transition period.  They have to help.

Again, here’s what to tell them:

  • They’ll be doing their own laundry and if not, they’ll have nothing to wear.
  • The alarm clock you are putting in their room is so they can wake themselves and get to school on time. If not, they’ll get in trouble at school.
  • That you expect respectful talk and no more childish whining.
  • That you’ll help in emergencies, such as typing their homework if their fingers are broken (use a little humor). This is something one adult would do for another if they needed the help.
  • That you’re not going to nag them any more. You’ll ask once and that’s it. Then, they’ll have to suffer the consequences if they don’t do it in a timely fashion.
  • That they’ll have to begin earning some money to pay for their own gas for the car. You may pay for the insurance and some upkeep; but that’s it.
  • That they’ll have to clean their own room. If they want to live in a dump, that’s their choice. If they want a clean bathroom, you’ll purchase the cleaning materials, but that’s all. They’ll have to change burned out light bulbs, wash towels, and scrub their own toilet. Say you can’t do those things for them because you can’t breathe when you’re in their room for the smell of the dirty shoes, socks and shorts.

I’m sure that when you present these things to your son or daughter, you’ll get to see their selfishness in action.  They won’t like it and may even throw a tantrum.  If so, then it only says that you should have started this process sooner.  They’ll drop the ball a few times and have to suffer the consequences as a result, but be sure not to rescue them from their selfhishness nor lessen the consequences.  Doing so will only cause selfishness and immaturity to continue.

 

 

 

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Control: Giving it Back to Your Teen

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in parenting

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Sometimes, we feel that the only way we can be a good parent is to be in control of our teenager and prevent them from making mistakes.  And that’s not true.  A good parent gradually gives control back to the teenager and helps them learn through the decisions they make.

And when the teen displays immaturity and irresponsibility, or makes a really bad decision, we parents are often too quick to snatch back control and clamp down even harder on the rules. In those situations, protecting our teen from making any more mistakes may be doing more harm than good.

“The problem with over-control is this: while a major responsibility of good parenting is certainly to control and protect, they must make room for their child to make mistakes. Over-controlled children are subject to dependency, enmeshment conflicts and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries.  They also have problems taking risks and being creative.”  — Dr. Henry Cloud

So, my advice is to gradually allow your teenager to have some control, and avoid taking it back…

  • Let them assume more and more responsibility
  • Encourage them to make thoughtful decisions
  • Set reasonable boundaries
  • Let them learn from their mistakes and don’t soften the blow
  • Spend more time in discussion rather than dictation
  • Offer sound advice, if they want it
  • Avoid saying “I told you so.”


Control shouldn’t be without limits…

Like training wheels on a bicycle, give your child some control over their “ride” in life, but have some basic safeguards in place. These are the same kind of limits we as adults experience.  For instance, there is a limit on your credit card. Why do you think credit card companies do that?  Once you prove yourself, they raise the limits. But it’s still giving you control of your own spending. In every area of life we have limits, and it is just as important for your teen to learn how to incorporate living within certain limits as they make decisions on their own.

Limits and the easing of control for an older teen can usually go like this. “Yes, you can take the car, but you can have no more than one other teen in the car, and have it back here by 11PM.” You don’t have to go into all the factual details, like studies have shown that having other teenagers in the car is a major cause of accidents for teenage drivers, and that most accidents for teens happen late at night. Simply make it known (and stick to it) that if your simple rules aren’t followed, then the next time they need it, the car won’t be available to them.

Lack of limits has the tendency to produce a child that is selfish, independent, demanding and aggressively controlling.  

Teenagers will go wild if they aren’t given some boundaries. Moral and ethical boundaries don’t change from adolescence to adulthood, and neither should your expectations of your teen’s behavior. What I’m referring to is giving them control over more and more decisions about things like budgeting money, education, clothing, and transportation, not over whether or not it is time to abandon civilized behavior. While they are living at home, or even at college while their tuition is being paid for by you, you can expect them to be living within reasonable moral boundaries, or they’ll lose some of the privileges you are providing. Consequences of breaking those estabnlished boundaries should be clear and understood up front, and enforced without wavering.

Giving control means allowing your teen to learn from bad decisions…

Giving control to your teen means they’ll begin learning from making small mistakes, but only if you allow those mistake to hurt a bit.  For example, if your teenage boy takes his gas money and decides to blow it all on the latest music CD, then you’re not helping him by giving him more gas money.  He needs to learn to set aside gas money and never use it for anything else. Softening the blow will only lead them to making the same mistakes again and again.

By the way, your teen will rarely come right out and say that they made a bad decision.  If you’re waiting for it, don’t hold your breath.  In fact, they may defend their decision with all their might, all along knowing it was bad.  It simply is not in their nature to go around talking about their mistakes, nor to suggest that they were wrong, but they will have learned from the mistake nonetheless.

And, take note of this.  Never use the old “I told you so” phrase with them when they make a mistake.  If you’re tempted to, bite your tongue, because “I told you so” tends to undermine the learning experience (and it makes an adult sound childish, too). If you offered your sage advice (which is the reasonable thing for any parent to do) and they didn’t heed it, then it is best to keep that to yourself.  They may only “fess up” that they should have taken your advice after years have gone by, or when they become a parent themselves.

A job well done…

When the time comes for our children to enter adulthood and make tough decisions on their own, we hope that we have given them ample time and opportunity to learn from making smaller decisions. As in everything else in life, good decision-making takes practice. If they have had some control over their own decisions earlier on, and they’ve learned from making wrong decisions, then we’ve done our job of teaching them.

Most teenagers say that they want to be out on their own when they turn 18 and make all their own decisions.  But the fact is, they usually have difficulty becoming independent. They secretly wish to avoid the kind of responsibilities they see their parents have for as long as possible. The tendency, then, is that we’ll have to nudge them out of the nest in some way, and the best way to do that is to get them started early making their own decisions and learning to do so within the limits.

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A Teen’s Need to Fit In

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in at-risk teens, fitting in, parenting, struggling teens, troubled teens

IMG_1291Do you recall some stupid things you did as a teenager? I do, and I’m sure you do, too. I guess that’s why many of us parents work overtime to help our teenagers avoid such embarrassment. But unfortunately, these life lessons cannot be learned any other way. Experiencing and becoming embarrassed by our own immaturity can do far more to help us reach maturity than anything else.

For many teenagers, the need to fit in can lead them to do some of the most immature things they’ll ever do in their entire life. They’ll mimic dress, language, musical preferences, attitudes and even the high risk activities of their peers just to fit in.

It can be highly confusing and shocking for parents because of the sudden changes in their child’s appearance and demeanor. Overnight it may appear that their child is forsaking everything they’ve ever been taught.

It is natural then for parents to seek ways to protect their child from these “bad influences.” They may go about pulling their teen out of that crowd, out of that school or out of that church. Or, they may even consider moving the entire family to a new town.

If your teen is being influenced to head down the wrong path, be sure to seek wise counsel and take care to look for any hidden reasons for the change. Could there be deeper psychological or medical issues, or underlying abuse, bullying, or a loss that could be causing this behavior? Could drugs be involved? Or, could the child not be getting enough acceptance at home, so they seek it elsewhere?

If the odd behavior is simply your teen trying to fit in, then don’t overreact. Most teens are not actually being rebellious and it’s best not to label them that way. They are just in a healthy pursuit of independence and personal validation. Innapproapriate dress, talking back, or other disrespectful or unlawful behavior is never acceptable and should be corrected, but don’t think your teen has “gone bad” just because he or she is making efforts to fit in.

As your teen gets older, I have found that it is best to mostly stand on the sidelines of the maturing game and offer wise coaching when the time is right. Stand your ground in regard to your household rules, but let your teen’s own choices, good or bad, be their teacher. Some day they’ll look back and realize that the group they were hanging with were totally immature. They’ll realize that they, too, looked like a dork, sounded like an idiot, and acted like a jerk when they were with that crowd.

We parents need to learn to “let go” when kids get into the upper teens. Don’t worry, their good and bad choices will eventually validate the concepts and values that we’ve taught them all along. It may be hard to watch it happening, but with a little exposure to some hardship resulting from bad decisions, your teen will learn how to apply the moral and ethical principles you’ve taught them, and will mature because they “see a need for it.”

So, if your teen is older and you’ve taught them good principles their entire life, put away your fix-it kit, hide the training wheels, and pray that God will bring about good influences and teach important lessons in your child’s life through every decision they make. Most of all, don’t force your teen to choose between fitting in at home versus only fitting in outside your home. There should never be a question that they fit in at home and are unconditionally loved by their family.

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Teen Modesty in a Culture of Seduction

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in household rules, parenting, teen communications, teen culture, teen seduction, troubled teens

 

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Remember the crazy fads in the late 60’s and 70’s?  The tie-dyed shirts, the beads, headbands, and the peace symbols? When I was in high school my dad hated my bushy sideburns and long hair, my purple bell bottoms and boots that came up over my knees.  It was a fad to look like the rock idols of the day and that look was in. My appearance made no sense to my parents, but it made a lot of sense to me at the time.

I bet there are things your parents didn’t like about the way you dressed as a teenager. Chances are, you don’t still dress that way, and when you look at those old pictures you may giggle, as I do, about how foolish you looked back then.

Today, I mostly hear from concerned parents of teenage girls who want to dress too seductively. They wonder how to deal with the issue of seduction when it has become so pervasive in our culture.

Teens today live in a world of sexual innuendo, where outward packaging and presentation is all important. The definition of modesty has changed for them, not so much because of the lack of values taught by parents, but because of the overwhelming exposure given to seductive lifestyles.

For the most part, dressing seductively is just a fad, and all fads pass soon enough. If your teen wants to be in on the fad of the moment, it doesn’t mean much of anything about her character, other than that she is playing out a role on the stage of adolescence. Generally speaking, she hasn’t gone off the deep end just because she wants to wear current fashions.

This fad can be a challenge for parents to manage, since the Internet, coupled with books, television, music videos and movies, have all inundated our kids with seductive images and inappropriate suggestions. Highly sexualized lifestyles are touted as normal, so girls face extreme social pressure to look and act seductively as well.

Girls from good Christian homes often tell me they are torn between doing what is acceptable by their peer group to “fit in,” and doing what is taught them by their families and church. More times than not, the social pressures for the teen to look and act like their peers will win out when they are in school or out with their friends.  But they will soon realize that the end result of their seductive presentation — when guys do pay attention — is not always what they expected, or what they really wanted in the first place.

My advice for parents is to not flip out when your daughter is just trying to fit in.  Using harsh words that defame her character such as, “you look like a …” will only push her deeper into the negative behavior. Rather, calmly and regularly address the more important issue of modesty.  Focusing on modesty, versus putting down the current fashion as our own parents did with us, will eliminate the perceived generation gap. And that way, when the next fad comes along she’ll understand her boundaries within that fad as well.

Make sure she understands that modesty is an important part of your family’s values and that’s not an area you’ll allow to be compromised, no matter what the current culture or fad says.

Is maintaining modesty going to be easy? No. But by being diligent and also showing that you understand her need to fit in with the culture she lives in, you’ll be able to maintain a great relationship with your little princess as you navigate and struggle through these tough waters. In the long run, a strong and open relationship with your child, coupled with uncompromising values of modesty, will best insure that she maintains appropriate dress, even when you aren’t looking.

…have(ing) righteous principles in the first place…they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.  — Martin Luther

Dressing seductively is a fad today for teenage girls.  Like any other fad, it will pass soon enough. Parenting teenage girls to be modest in their appearance in the midst of this fad is a tough place to be, and every concerned parent I know hopes it will pass a little quicker. But then again, who knows what the next fad will bring?

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Teens and Alcohol: A Scary Mixture

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, parenting communications, substance abuse, troubled teens

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Halloween is just around the corner. That means parties & festivals start to increase and sometimes alcohol is also invited. How can we protect our teens and help them say “No!” to alcohol?

Statistically, your teen will drink alcohol in high school.  Some parents know it.  Some don’t want to admit it.  According to national studies, 11% of the alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by underage kids.  The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, 39% admitted to drinking some amount of alcohol within the last thirty days.  8% of those students drove after drinking alcohol, and more than 24% said they rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

With that in mind, are you still willing to believe your child won’t be offered or even start drinking alcohol in their teen years?  With all the kindness and Christian charity this Texan can muster, can I say:  That’s just crazy!

I am a teen advocate.  My career revolves around helping teens and their parents deal with serious issues, and I have seen too many broken hearts and wounded lives as a result of teen alcohol use to take it casually.  A teen’s maturity level is simply not developed enough to make good decisions regarding alcohol. The physical changes they are undergoing in their brains and bodies mean they cannot properly assess the impact drinking is having on them.  Regardless of your position on alcohol use by adults (and I know many good people who draw that line in different places), we all agree that teens and alcohol is a dangerous mixture.

KNOW THE STORY

Before we can ever address the problem of teen drinking, it helps to know why a teen drinks.  If you find out your son or daughter is drinking, take a moment to uncover the bigger story.  In my experience, many teens drink to fit in.  It’s the feeling of camaraderie and community that leads even good kids, who have strong beliefs and values otherwise, to pick up a bottle.  In some cases, teens drink to erase painful memories.  My wife was sexually abused for years, without anyone finding out.  Those images are replayed over and over in a child’s mind, and sometimes they are looking for a way to make those agonizing movies stop.  Worried or anxious teens may use alcohol in order to sleep.  Some kids drink because they are frustrated, feel like failures, or are angry.  Of course, I’ve talked to teens who were simply curious about alcohol or enjoyed the feeling of being drunk.  But you’ll never know why your child may be drinking if you don’t ask.

ASK QUESTIONS

Uncovering the reasons behind teen drinking requires moms and dads to ask questions.  But notice I did not say interrogate.  You’re not asking questions to prove your case and bring down the hammer.  You want to ask questions so you can understand your child better.  Ask your child questions like “Do any of your friends drink?” “Have you been pressured to drink?” “What do you think about alcohol?” If they respond by saying they tried it, I encourage you to thank them for being honest and work with them to understand why it isn’t a good idea for teens to drink.

Several of the teens at Heartlight are here primarily because of issues that come from drinking. I asked one of them the other day why she started drinking, and she said, “Because my friends were drinking.” In order to fit in, this sixteen-year-old girl began using alcohol despite what her parents had taught her and the fact that her older brother had died in a drunk driving accident.  She went on to say, “I was scared to say no.  I didn’t want to be the outsider.”

The best strategy for preventing teens from experimenting with alcohol is to have an ongoing conversation with them about drinking.  This isn’t something that can be mentioned once and then left alone.  Keep the dialogue going.  Keep asking questions.  And if you have suspicions, don’t be afraid to ask your child directly, “Are you drinking?

SET BELIEFS AND CONSEQUENCES

Preventing or dealing with teen alcohol use doesn’t end with asking good questions.  The next step is to communicate your beliefs on the subject and set concrete consequences should your child step outside the lines.  Concerned parents need to lay down clear and firm boundaries in this area.  Your child needs to know what the consequences will be before they use alcohol.  For example, you might tell them that they will lose their car if you learn they have been drinking and driving.  And if they get arrested for a DUI, you won’t provide bail for them.  That may sound harsh, but consider the alternatives.  What will happen if they hit and kill someone while driving drunk?  Teens don’t think about those possibilities when they drink.  In their minds, they’re untouchable and invincible.  It’s our job to make them aware that they are not!

You can tell your 16-year-old son, “When you are 21, whether you drink is up to you. Right now, though, it is up to me to make sure you don’t drink. I’m going to draw the line and hold that line to protect you.”  Your teen may not like the boundaries you set (although he’ll probably appreciate it more than he would ever admit), but he needs them, if for no other reason than to tell his peers the dire consequences if he is caught.  And even if your teen doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, set these guidelines and consequences now, so that everyone in the family is on the same page.

Teenage alcohol use is an issue that needs to be addressed head-on.  You may think “my teen will never become an alcoholic, or get arrested for driving under the influence, or get pregnant because she was too drunk to care.”  But it happens, and it may happen to your child.  I don’t say this to scare you.  I say it to prepare you.  When it comes to alcohol use by teens today, passive (“Don’t ask, don’t tell”) parenting certainly won’t protect your teen.  Permissive (“Let’s allow kids to drink at home”) parenting can actually encourage it.  So it is up to you to practice proactive (“No alcohol until age 21″) parenting, and hold the line.

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